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Monday, October 30, 2006

***½ Liavek, ed. by Will Shetterly & Emma Bull. Fantasy anthology.

Hmmm. Now I'm confused. I was certain I'd read one of the Liavek anthologies before, but I can't find it on my shelves, so it must have been before we moved, and the memories seem a little more recent than that. Oh, well.

Anyway, this is the first in a series of shared-world anthologies, the world being Liavek, the city of Luck. The main thing that distinguishes this world is the way in which magic works. Everyone has a certain amount of "luck," and they can access it during the hours of their birth--that is, on their birthdays, for the hours during which their mother was in labor. A wizard is someone who's "invested" their luck--stored it in an object during a ritual that must be repeated yearly during their luck time--so they can access it year-round.

I approached this anthology with skepticism, because it seemed that in the last anthology I'd read in this shared universe, every story was about rival wizards trying to find where each other had stored their luck and to destroy it &/or to disrupt their reinvestiture. And the first story, "Badu's Luck," by Emma Bull, did indeed fit the mold, although it was more about recurring character Snake protecting a wizard during their luck time.

Then "The Green Rabbit from S'Rian" by Gene Wolfe ended the one-story streak, with a story about pirates, of all things. And "Ancient Curses" by Patricia C. Wrede convinced me that there was going to be more to this anthology than I'd suspected. This story was about someone trying to summon the god Rikiki, who'd been turned into a squirrel.

"Birth Luck" by Nancy Kress is a story of revenge--a sister seeks revenge on the wizard who convinced her brother to try to invest his luck--the failure of which killed him.

"An Act of Contrition" by Steven Brust is a tale of intrigue and a convoluted plot--that does involve wizards' luck hours, but only peripherally.

Jane Yolen's "The Inn of the Demon Camel" is a short-short story, told like an Aesop's fable. And "The Hands of the Artist" by Kara Dalkey is a mystery story. So much for my presumption that all the stories would be alike.

"The Green Cat" by Pamela Dean is about a young woman who thinks life's not worth living, so she joins a suicide order--the concept is that once she discharges all her obligations, she can die. And she does, except for this cat... "A Coincidence of Birth" by Megan Lindholm is about another young woman who hires a wizard to learn her birth date.

Will Shetterly's "Bound Things" has recurring character Trav The Magician being hired by a child to recover her dolly and outwitting a rival wizard.

The last story is "The Fortune Maker" by Barry B. Longyear. It's about a garbage picker who invests his luck and becomes a rare "fortune maker"--that is, whenever someone asks him what their fortune will be, whatever's in his heart regarding them will be. It's the longest story in the anthology by far.

The problem with fantasy short stories is that fantasy generally involves a lot of worldbuilding, and trying to squeeze that into 20 pages or so doesn't leave a lot of room for the story. That's where the shared world concept comes in. Some of the stories in this anthology still suffer from that, and quite a few of them suffer from an excess of characters--too many characters with odd names in a short story makes it rather confusing.

The clearest, and therefore most interesting/entertaining stories, IMO, were Brust's (despite the convoluted plot, it was easy to follow), Dalkey's, Dean's, Shetterly's, and Longyear's.

It was better reading than I'd expected (though I'm afraid my enjoyment of Emma Bull's story suffered because of those expectations), and I'm looking forward to the next Liavek anthology in my TBR pile.


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